January 19, 2015

South Carolina Settings—Novel Atmospheres

By Linda Lovely

While I’m not a native Southerner, I’ve called South Carolina home for 26 years, living in the low country for 13 years and the Upstate for 13 years. It’s no surprise that I’ve capitalized on these atmosphere-rich regions as settings for two of my novels. Two of my works in progress also feature these appealing locales.

But don’t bother consulting a map to pinpoint where my heroines and heroes hang their hats. There is no Dear Island—the private barrier island terrorized by a pun-loving murderer in Dear Killer. Nor is there a town of Shelby, home to fictional Blue Ridge University, the troubled campus threatened by homegrown terrorists in Dead Hunt. The private island and the college town are inventions. Here’s why.

I write mysteries, suspense and thrillers. Ergo, bad things happen. People die. Killers elude authorities. Developers are sometimes greedy. Public officials may lie or cheat. Deputies are occasionally crooked. University administrators may be clueless. Suffice it to say, that unsavory, if not downright despicable, antagonists flourish in my novels.

I need a cast of smart, unscrupulous characters to weave my mysteries and challenge my heroines and heroes. What I don’t need is a lawsuit. Also, I don’t want to irk residents of a real island community. I’m loath to suggest there might be bad apples among the law enforcement officers in an actual county. And I’m not about to poke fun at administrators serving an accredited university. That’s why I’ve given make-believe names to the institutions, companies, towns and counties populated with such characters.

Yet I still try to faithfully capture each region’s beauty and majesty as well as what can become frightening elements if my protagonists are alone, lost, or being pursued by ruthless villains. I hope this balance works.

Using fictional locations with the local region’s flavor also gives me handy latitude. Since my fictional Dear Island is a composite of several barrier islands, I could play with the geographic puzzle pieces—golf courses, canals, marinas, marshland, and beaches—and anchor them anywhere I wished within the island’s confines. That means they’re ideally situated to serve my plot. I did take care, however, to offer readers a variety of touchstones—references to neighboring Beaufort, Hilton Head and Parris Island—to ground them within the Lowcountry.  

In Dead Hunt, my imaginary university’s students reside in Leeds County, another invention. Yet I made certain the campus was a comfortable drive from Greenville, Clemson University, and the Jocassee Gorges mountain wilderness, which serves as an enchanting and scary backdrop for my heroine and hero when terrorists are gunning for them in the dead of night.

I love to set my books in places where I can close my eyes and recall exact moments in time. Paddling a kayak in the calm of an ocean inlet, hearing the cries of seagulls, and smelling the acrid aroma of the marsh. Hiking a mountain trail and listening to the gurgle of a rushing stream and inhaling the scent of crushed pine needles in the shadowy twilight of the dense forest.

While my places names may be make believe, my South Carolina settings are as real as my most vivid memories allow.
Author Linda Lovely writes two series. Her Marley Clark mysteries feature a 52-year-old retired military intelligence officer who lives in the Lowcountry and works part-time as a security officer on private Dear Island. Lovely’s Smart Women, Dumb Luck romantic thrillers shift the focus among three heroines brought together by “dumb luck” at Upstate South Carolina’s fictional Blue Ridge University, the setting for Dead Hunt. The author is a member of Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and the South Carolina Writers Workshop. For more information, visit her website:  

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